Pepper in the 1970s

I recently interviewed Canadian Olympic rider Beth Underhill for The Horse Network. She talked about Teddy, “a wretched, wretched pony” she had as a child who used to run her under the apple tree and knock her off. But Teddy, she went on to explain, really taught her how to ride, “how to gain a horse’s trust,” and the value of perseverance.

The Horse Network also published a story on Amy Millar, famous Canadian rider Ian Millar’s daughter, and now a successful rider herself, on what it was like growing up Millar. Amy also references her first pony, Cindy –“a naughty little mare” who “would just run straight to the hay pile” with Amy aboard, sometimes all the way from the field.

Interview any successful professional today and almost all will mention the wretched, naughty pony from their past. And almost all will speak about those ponies with true affection and true appreciation.

While I’m neither a professional, nor successful – in fact, I haven’t competed in many years – I, too, have that pony in my past. Pepper was a 12.2 handsome gray who loved to buck. He bucked everyone off, including instructors. One lesson, when I was eight years old, he bucked me off eight times in a row. Why the instructor had me repeat the same exercise eight times is still mystifying.

Another time, when I was ten, practicing for a pony club rally on a chilly fall night, Pepper bucked with each successive drop down the three step piano jump. I survived the first two bucks, but the third launched me 40 some feet through the air. I remember soaring, my arms outstretched, seeing the other students lined up watching my flight in horror, and waiting for the dreaded thud on my 1970s era helmet when I hit the ground. That fall earned me my first concussion.

After Pepper no horse ever bucked me off again. And I had many who tried.

Aside from his bucking prowess Pepper was also an athletic jumper who won me many ribbons. And at a time when my lessons often became simulated puissance classes Pepper kept me safe over jumps a ten year old on a small pony should not have been jumping. I remember galloping down to big 3 foot 6 oxers knowing Pepper would always get me over safely, but hoping against hope that he didn’t try to buck me off on the other side.

Ponies like Teddy, Cindy and Pepper, toughen their riders and teach them that riding isn’t easy, that adversity is something to overcome not avoid, that for every one success there are many failures, that there are no short cuts, that perseverance pays.

Ponies like these build character.